Small gnats are causing big problems.
November 8, 2011 1:10 p.m.
Bill Brammer, owner, Be Wise Organic Farm
Cindy Morriss is a resident of the San Pasqual Valley area of Escondido, and a member of a group who say their quality of life has declined because of eye gnats
Related Story: How Many Gnats Are A Nuisance?
CAVANAUGH: This is KPBS Midday Edition, I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. Some very small gnats are causing problems in Jacumba and Escondido. We're not talking about some gnats but rather thousands of them. Eye gnats love to breed in organic farms. Farm owners from the city are working with a county entomologist to reduce the problem. But that may not be enough. I'd like to welcome my guest, Bill Brammer is owner of BY's organic farm. Welcome to the show.
BRAMMER: Thank you for having me
CAVANAUGH: Cindy Morriss is a residence of the San Pasqual valley resident of Escondido, and one of a group who claim quality of life has declined because of Eye gnats. Cindy hello.
MORRISS: Hello, how are you?
CAVANAUGH: Quite well. Thank you for being here. Can you tell us, bill, what an eye gnat is?
BRAMMER: It's a small insect in the sound part of the United States. Any kind of sandy ground that has moisture will create eye gnats. It's not just organic farms. Any farm that tills the soil and puts irrigation on the soil
CAVANAUGH: Do you know why they call them eye gnats?
BRAMMER: They're trying to get the mucous out of the eyes and the nose to go back and lay eggs. They don't actually bite you or -- they're just more of a nuisance. That's what they're classified as of now. A nuisance
CAVANAUGH: They sound rather unattractive. Cindy, when did the gnats become a problem?
MORRISS: The gnats become a problem once it starts to warm up early in the year. Usually they have been starting -- they were starting earlier in other years interest March or April. This year, they didn't start in force because we had a cooler spring. And we didn't see great amounts of them until around the 4th of July.
CAVANAUGH: Tell us what great amounts of these gnats are like to live with.
MORRISS: Oh, dear. Well, it really does destroy your quality of life. You can't go outside and garden without having the things pestering you so badly that you need to spray around so that you can stand in a cloud of poison and not have them irritating you all the time. You can't take children or grand children out into the garden because they start crying because these things are bothering them so badly. Pets are just bedevilled by the things so they're going crazy all the time. In our community, golfers can't golf with any amount of pleasure at all because the things are driving them crazy. They go to golf then they leave and turn around and go back. They are playing three schools that we have close to our community. And the teachers are complaining that the eye gnats are not only out on the playground but coming into the classroom. So the teachers have to be very careful to close all the doors and windows when the eye gnats are particularly bad. They sometimes have to curtail their recesses and so on. I understand that at the high school they have canceled football practice from time to time because the eye gnats are so bad.
CAVANAUGH: Let me stop you there. And let me tell our listeners that we do have pictures on our website of these eye gnats on the faces of people and pets. That's on our website at KPBS.org. How far away do you live from the BY's farm, Cindy?
MORRISS: I'd say as the crow flies, I'm probably a half a mile, something like that. Recently or over the past few years we really didn't seem to have a problem with the eye gnats until about 5 or 6 years ago
CAVANAUGH: And that's one question that I wanted to ask you both. You be, your BY's organic farm has been there for quite some time, right bill?
BRAMMER: Since 1995
CAVANAUGH: So why has this just cropped up as a problem now? Do you have any notion why?
BRAMMER: I don't have any notion why. I talked to the old timers in the area, and they said this was a problem back in the '60s, '70s. Every time in the summer time, when they were trying conventionally, they had problems with eye gnats, every summer long. The residents that I have been welled there, it was just part of living in the valley
CAVANAUGH: But it's your belief that the problem has gotten worse?
MORRISS: Oh, yes. We moved into the development in 23. And fiduciary a couple of years, there was absolutely no problem. Absolutely none. And then all of a sudden, they seem to -- then the next year they started to be there whenever we had monsoonal weather. And you couldn't stand out in your front yard and talk to your neighborhood across the street because the eye gnats were just bother you so badly. People that have tried to have -- we bought a lot of patio furniture when we first moved in. We haven't used it in terms because people that try to have parties in their backyards can't have a party because the eye gnats are so bad. This means children's birthday parties, it means if you want to have a cocktail party or a wedding reception or anything like that --
CAVANAUGH: It's just really impacting your quality of life
MORRISS: It really is, yes.
CAVANAUGH: You say that you have not actually observed any gnats on your farm; is that right?
BRAMMER: We see very few on the farm
CAVANAUGH: Where do you think they're coming from, then?
BRAMMER: Well, from talking to the researcher, and in fact, the same problem occurred in hadumb ba. Of the farmer never saw them, the workers never saw them. We've never had complaints or any problems of conjunctivitis or pink eye. They seem to come into the soil after it's tilled, it's got moisture in there, they lay eggs, they don't fly very well so they hover about a foot, they leave the farm, and maybe our farm, it's in a pretty windy area in San Pasqual. They leave, they go to the brush. One thing that has changed in the last number of year system in 27 everything around us burned in the witch creek fire. I think that probably has speeded up how fast the eye gnats fly up to the houses
CAVANAUGH: I see.
BRAMMER: And also it got rid of the gnat catcher, and other possible predators of the insects. Everything in that area burned
CAVANAUGH: Let me give our listeners an idea of BY's organic farm. About how big is your farm?
BRAMMER: About 220 acres
CAVANAUGH: What do you grow and where do you sell your props?
BRAMMER: Our main crops are heirloom tomatoes that we sell. We do trader Joe's through the whole United States. All stores, owl divisions. Whole foods and all -- what they call the Pacific southwest, which is LA, San Diego, all of Texas, all of Denver, and a good part of Atlanta and Florida
CAVANAUGH: So you've got a pretty good operation there.
BRAMMER: Then we do organic strawberries, for also trader Joe's, and whole food's, and Jim bow's, and local stores. Then we've got about 3,500 people in a community supported agricultural program where we deliver boxes of -- weekly boxes of carrots, lettuce.
CAVANAUGH: Why is it that these gnats apparently like organic farms to breed in? Is it the compost?
BRAMMER: No, compost isn't a problem. They're actually not just organic farms. It's basically sandy ground that's irrigated. A lot of the final argumenting that's left in this county is organic because you can't compete with Mexico. So the farms that are still existing are mostly organic farms. If you till the soil, and if you have better humanous, you probably have more things for the eye gnats to lay egs on. So maybe it could get worse in organic as compared to a conventional farm
CAVANAUGH: You keep referring to the research that has been done, the county has hired an entomologist to determine how to deal with the gnat problem so far. What has he come up with?
BRAMMER: There's been very little research done. They have solved this problem in Coachella valley. Back in the 20s, they had this problem, it was so bad, people couldn't go outside. Just what Cindy is describing. So they did a county-wide mass trapping. Of the and that's controlled it for 90 years. In Yuma Arizona, the same thing, they did a county-wide trapping program. They're trying to do in San Diego is make the farmer pay for all of the research, all of the chemicals. The farm in Jacumba spent close to $250,000 one year on chemicals that were demanded to be applied before the research had been done, and basically just wasted his money. Up till now, he's got two people on this every single day, and they've dropped the numbers down about 99% from what I've read. But there's a vocal group of homeowners that want to see no eye gnats. Eye nates were there before he started farming. He didn't create eye gnats. They were there ever since man has been here, probably
CAVANAUGH: Are you affiliated with the people who are protesting in hadumb ba-at all, Cindy?
CAVANAUGH: So what would be a good quality of life for you? You don't want the Eraddition of every single eye gnat that ever lived, right?
MORRISS: I don't think that's possible. However, what we would like to be able to do is to enjoy normal California living. The whole reason that we moved into this area was because we didn't want to live any place where they had noxious flying insects all the time. We love the climate, you know, we love the people here. The community is beautiful. However, I can't -- you can't minimize the problem that we have by saying, well, you guys are just super sensitive or something like that.
CAVANAUGH: Right, right and I sort of characterized it that way in the open, too. And I wonder if indeed this is the situation or whether or not, Cindy, you understand that the farmers are trying to mitigate this situation
MORRISS: I understand that completely. And our own little community group has been very patient, and that's -- I have been requesting information from the scientist who's working with Mr. Brammer. And we have been very supportive of what they're doing ever since Mr. Brammer agreed to work with him. And we have been anxious to have good results coming. And we had a community picnic earlier this month where -- excuse me, last month, and I gave a report with what I thought had been told to me was progress that they are making. And encouraged everybody to continue to send in their complaints to the vector troll people because from this, we're sort of junior scientists for the researchers. And this gives them information as stowhen the gnats seem to be most prevalent, when they're most obnoxious, what their experiences are. We tell them the wind conditions at the time of the report, what the temperature is, and so on. And in this way, we hope that we are aiding in the scientist effort that's being made. And we hope that -- and we've been advocating patience so that at some point here, we no longer will have this as a problem and we can go back to what we were earlier than 5 or 6 years ago with this problem
CAVANAUGH: Now, as I understand it, bill, one of the fears of the organic farmers is that there will be a move to have the eye gnats designated as a vector, as an actual pest. What would happen if that were to be the case?
BRAMMER: Well, let's talk about the law that was proposed last week. Right now, that has been tabled, and they've given 90 days to come up with something. If you read the language of that's going to be discussed tomorrow --
CAVANAUGH: At the county Board of Supervisors
BRAMMER: Tomorrow morning, they're still painting off the organic farmers, or the two of of us, they list two of us in this ordinance, as we need a tougher strategy to deal with them. Even though it says in the line before that we are cooperating with the researcher, and they have been -- you know, the neighbors, everybody understands it's going to take a couple of years but because of so much pressure from the homeowners, the Board of Supervisors decided at that point to try to present that law
CAVANAUGH: What would be the tougher measures?
BRAMMER: Well, a THOUSAND-DOLLAR a day fine if you're out of compliance, which means if an eye gnat leaves your property, even though you don't see him on the property, if they hatch, they fly and leave your property, you would be out of compliance. So you'd be fined a thousand dollars a day. You'd have a series of things they would try to do. And eventually, that I would come in and spray your property to abate the problem, and basically force you out of business
CAVANAUGH: And so the spraying of the property would make this a nonorganic farm.
BRAMMER: Correct. Which means three years. So they're not really giving time for the research and for the trapping. Because what Jim --
CAVANAUGH: Who is the entomologist
BRAMMER: The entomologist from UC, has recommended we're going to put traps on the farm. Ben this summer, he recommended that the homeowners in Cindy's area put homes throughout their neighborhood. At this point, this has not been done. We're hoping that with some of the veterans that are coming back through archer's ache ares, that they could build traps, sell them to the homeowners, either have the county maintain the traps, to maintain them you're talking about spraying a rotten egg mixture in there once a week. That attracts the gnats to it. And you got to keep spraying it when they're active. And a lot of it is temperature related
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Cindy, would that be part of the solution that you would go for to actually put up the homeowners put up traps themselves as well?
MORRISS: I think most homeowners would be happy to do that. I can't speak for everybody, of course. But people are say desperate to have relieve from this problem that I think it would certainly be something that we would consider. As a matter of fact, we have talked about this but we have been advised that they haven't yet determined exactly -- or if they have determined, we haven't heard about it, what the perfect trap would be at this point. So we are just looking for relief in any form that it comes, I know
CAVANAUGH: We have -- there are a number of people who would like to join this conversation. We're getting tight on time. Mike is calling from Bonsall. And Mike, welcome to the show.
NEW SPEAKER: Hi. Good subject. I'm a botanist. And a field biologist am so I do a lot of surveys out in some pretty awful places where mosquito, thousand was them attack you. Gnats, thousands of them. And I live in Bonsall and have a grove. And we're organic. So I sympathize with archiya acre, and this other gentleman because guess what? People want to eat, and they want to eat clean food. And that's the only way you're going to get it. And when people move into an area where you have an insect like this that's been there for thousands and thousands of years, and they water their own lawns. And then they want to complain because they have this bug that's bothersome. And can I give you a Kleenex?
CAVANAUGH: Actually, thank you, Mike. Thank you very much. Rather unsympathetic for your cause, Cindy. Do you want to respond?
MORRISS: Yes. I'm 73 years old, and for at least 60 of those year, I've lived in California. We lived most recently before we came back to California in Seattle. The reason that we moved here was because, NO. 1, very good weather, but primarily because from every experience that we have ever had, California does not have noxious insects that destroy your quality of life, as so many other states throughout the union do.
CAVANAUGH: We are going to have it end it there. I am just so sorry. We are flat out of time. But what we'll do is we'll come back and revisit this issue after the supervisors' meeting tomorrow and see where we are on this. Because obviously it's of great concern to many, many people. I want to thank my guest, bill Brammer, of BY's organic farm, and Cindy Morris of the San Pasqual valley. Thank you both very much
BRAMMER: Thank you
MORRISS: Thank you.